Films that’d get a fairer hearing if they weren’t sequels

Some sequels are doomed to live in the shadow of the hits that triggered them. Here are a few examples...

Following up a successful movie with a sequel is a tough proposition for any writer or director, and it’s often the case that such follow-ups fail to recreate the magic of their predecessors. But sometimes, sequels can offer a different yet entertaining experience of their own, and it’s even possible that, if they didn’t happen to share the same name as an earlier hit film, they might even have been better received.

This article’s dedicated to a few of these kinds of films. They offer lots of excitement, comedy, jolts of terror and a smattering of great performances, and might have fared better with audiences and critics had they not been sequels. At the very least, they attempted to do something a little different than the films they followed. While other examples undeniably remain, here are a few of our favourites…

Die Hard 4.0

Die Hard 4.0, or Live Free And Die Hard as it was known in the States, is an unimpressive Die Hard film. It feels like it’s Bruce Willis at the heart of it rather than the character of John McClane, and in that sense, it also feels like a break from the three films beforehand.

But still: for the first half at least, there’s a fun action movie in the midst of Len Wiseman’s film. There’s an argument that Wiseman’s Total Recall movie was quite good in its first half too, when the story was being set up and before the excesses kicked in. In the case of Die Hard 4.0, Wiseman frames a few good action sequences (they’re certainly a mile better than anything in A Good Day To Die Hard), and puts the pieces in place for a decent techno thriller.

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It all goes to pot in the last half of course, with the laugh-out-loud funny truck vs jet action sequence leaving you wondering how we got from Nakatomi Plaza to here. But as a two hour throwaway action movie? Die Hard 4.0 isn’t bad…

Airplane II: The Sequel

Made at a time when sequels were commonly sneered at, Airplane II had the odds stacked against it further when the writer-director trio of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker opted to give the second film a miss. Ken Finkleman stepped in to write and direct, with Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty and Lloyd Bridges leading the returnees.

You’d have to say, too, that Finkleman studied the first film intensely, and repeated some elements of it as he blasted a bunch of passengers off into space. And yet there are still stand-out moments in Airplane II that have been overlooked as time has gone on. William Shatner, for a start, is having all sorts of fun here, and is part of the film’s best sight gag.

Plus: it’s still funny. Not as funny as the first, but certainly enough to make it worth an hour and a half not as part of an Airplane! marathon. It’s hardly an unmissable piece of work, but it’s perfectly fine as a chuckle-inducer.

The Timothy Dalton Bond films

Granted, there’s a growing groundswell of appreciation for what Timothy Dalton brought to the role of James Bond. His gruff, harder edge was a notable departure from the dapper suaveness of Roger Moore, and arguably preceded what Daniel Craig would do with the character of Bond from Casino Royale onwards.

Dalton did get there first though, and in both The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill – in fact, in Licence To Kill in particular – he was in the middle of two tough action thrillers that more than stand on their own two feet.

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Taken away from the Bond series, the tone of Dalton’s Bonds more easily fit the grittier action movies of the 1980s. But critics weren’t bowled over, audiences didn’t turn up in great numbers, and 007 – for rights reasons – would quietly disappear for a few years until Pierce Brosnan finally got to take the part in GoldenEye. Dalton, we’d argue, made that transition a little bit easier for him.

Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines

The shadow of James Cameron rightly stands tall over Jonathan Mostow’s Terminator sequel, a film that’s respectful in the way it treats the franchise, but never comes close to matching what’s come before. It’s still a decent movie, however, released at a point when over the top action sequences and CG were taking hold. It hit cinemas in the UK around the same time as Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, for sake of contrast.

Terminator 3 does a few things right, though. Firstly, Mostow commits heavily to practical stunt work whenever he can, and boy can you tell. The big truck chase scene, for instance, feels like it has real heft to it. Arnie’s tribute act to the Terminators of old is a little disappointing, granted, but Kristanna Loken at least feels like a decent foe.

Most of all, Terminator 3 has a really bold, strong and surprising last ten minutes. Certainly, it felt like a jolt upwards the first time we saw it, and the same remains now: few blockbusters would ever be so brave, or so downbeat.

Terminator 3 is thus a solid action movie, lifted by a final act that sticks long in the memory.

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The Godfather Part III

Francis Ford Coppolla was on a hiding to nothing by the time he actually got around to making his long-mooted third Godfather movie in 1990. It still managed to notch up seven Oscar nominations when it finally arrived, but the argument at the time was that those wins were based more on reputation than the quality of the film in question.

That does sell elements of The Godfather Part III short, however, because while it’s a good distance behind the quality of the first two movies, there’s much to like here. In particular, Al Pacino’s performance as an ageing Michael Corleone is excellent, and the story of his decline is compelling. Andy Garcia also holds his own as Vincent Corleone. And whilst late replacement Sofia Coppola attracted no shortage of critical ire (she took a role that was to be played by Julia Roberts, then Winona Ryder), the cast is generally very strong.

The Godfather Part III can’t, by its nature, stand apart from its predecessors. Yet it’s in its own right a good chapter of the story, well told. By not being, or coming close to being, a masterpiece, as a piece of cinema on its own right it’s destined to remain sneered at for some time to come.

Superman III

Superman III is a bit of a mess. Dispensing with the Christ metaphor that underpinned the two movies beforehand, and having to find new foes for the Man of Steel to fight, it instead becomes obsessed by a movie star. To its credit, though, it becomes obsessed by a good movie star.

Superman III is more about being a Richard Pryor star vehicle than a straight out Superman film. And whilst that weakens it as a superhero film, it’s still an awful lot of fun. Plus, it does have at least one great Superman moment in it, when Christopher Reeve has to fight angry, evil Christopher Reeve. In a time when computers couldn’t do the heavy lifting, the scene is as technically impressive as it is fun to watch.

But there’s plenty else to enjoy. We’ve explored the rudimentary computer programming skills of Richard Pryor’s Gus Gorman beforehand here, but he’s good value even without that. Robert Vaughn is a decent villain, but it’s the forerunner to RoboCop at the end of the film – as Annie Ross’s Vera Webster is abruptly turned into a silver-eyed cyborg – that gave us nightmares, and still holds up really rather well.

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It’s a bit daft, granted, but if the aim of a blockbuster movie is to entertain, then you’re not totally shortchanged.

A Very Brady Sequel

We bang on about this film quite a lot, mainly because it’s arguably one of the very best Hollywood comedies of the 1990s. Sadly, that title, you’d have to suggest, was one big reason why it’s so overlooked (well, that and the BBFC refusing to classify it in Britain for a while thanks to it featuring nunchuks. It eventually got a low key VHS release only). This isn’t even a case after all of a film being unfairly maligned for being a follow-up. Instead, it’s a case of a film being a sequel decreasing its visibility.

There were other examples in the 1990s, particular in the comedy genre. Wayne’s World 2 and Addams Family Values both performed significantly less well than the films before them. There’s an argument that both also improved on them.

In the case of the overlooked comedy sequel, only the usually inevitable boxset offers salvation. The Brady Bunch didn’t even get one of those in the UK, though…

The Exorcist III

With its title cynically changed from Legion by a cash-hungry studio, The Exorcist III was immediately left standing in the shadow of William Friedkin’s classic original, and to far a lesser extent, John Boorman’s crackpot 1977 sequel. This does the movie – and its writer-director William Peter Blatty, who wrote the original Exorcist novel – a major disservice, because it’s essentially a supernatural detective thriller rather than a horror film. Taken on its own as Blatty intended, it’s extremely effective; George C Scott plays a cop on the trail of a serial killer called The Gemini – a maniac who’d already been caught and executed 15 years earlier.

Although Blatty had already written Legion as a hit novel when an earlier attempt to get the story made with William Friedkin fell apart, Morgan Creek Productions were keen to give the story stronger ties to the Exorcist franchise. To this end, the title was chosen and an extraneous exorcism scene was shoehorned in; Blatty was confronted with the choice of filming a new ending himself or handing it over to another director to complete. Anxious that he keep control of his film, Blatty relented and shot the new ending at an estimated cost of around $4m.

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Compromised by outside meddling though it is, The Exorcist III is still a great, creepy thriller. Ignore the Exorcist label, and you’ll find a well-made genre film with some superb lighting and great performances from an ever-reliable Scott and Brad Dourif as the killer.

Predator 2

Outside the Terminator franchise, 1987’s Predator is widely regarded as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s best and most quotable films. Given that its pairing of the Austrian Oak with Kevin Peter Hall’s cunning, high-tech alien big game hunter was so successful, it’s understandable that a sequel would have a hard time following it, especially when Schwarzenegger failed to put in a return appearance.

Danny Glover took over, playing a beleaguered LA cop who’s baffled by a string of bloody murders on his turf. To make matters worse, the city’s in the middle of a heat wave – not what you need when an invisible Predator’s leaving skinned corpses hanging out to dry. Some reviews were hostile, but Predator 2 succeeds on several counts – one, in being bold enough to move the action to such a wildly different environment, two, in casting Danny Glover in the lead role (he’s superb) and three, in giving the film a really strong atmosphere. Director Stephen Hopkins gives the film a palpably sweaty, nervy tone; his near-future Los Angeles is a pressure cooker of tension, and the Predator (Kevin Peter Hall again) steps right into the middle of it, weapons primed.

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

“Eight more days ’till Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. Eight more days ’till Halloween, Silver Shamrock”.

That refrain, part of an infuriatingly catchy advertising jingle, plus the remarkable absence of franchise regular Michael Myers, might have made some cinemagoers wonder whether John Carpenter was deliberately trying to wind them up back in 1982. Yet Halloween III: Season Of The Witch was an interesting experiment – an attempt by Carpenter, who’d stepped into the role of producer with his collaborator Debra Hill, to move the franchise away from the slasher genre.

Season Of The Witch was intended as the first in an annual anthology of horror stories based on the Halloween theme rather than a supernatural killer running around with a knife. Taken on its own, the result is arguably successful, even if Nigel Kneale’s original script ended up being made more violent and less coherent at the behest of an interfering Dino De Laurentiis. There are scary masks, mind control, a stolen rock from Stonehenge, robotic assassins, and some great cinematography from Dean Cundey.

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The film’s returns were notably down on the first two Halloween installments, and Michael Myers was hastily brought back for Halloween 4 in 1988. Season Of The Witch stands out as a strange anomaly in the franchise, but taken as a stand-alone movie, it’s an effective shocker with some memorable moments – not least a superb early murder scene in a hospital.

Alien 3

Inevitably, David Fincher’s Alien sequel makes an appearance. Even though Fincher wouldn’t call it his film – its making of was charted superbly in a surprisingly candid documentary on the Alien Blu-ray collection – there’s still an intensity and darkness that crosses over with his work.

The problem Alien 3 faces is twofold. Firstly, it follows the excellent Alien and Aliens, both genre classics. Secondly, it starts by killing off characters you’ve spent all of Aliens rooting for in a matter of minutes.

Left to its own devices, though, and Alien 3 is a worthwhile piece of work. A low-tech prison planet, one single Alien left to run riot, and an evolution of the character of Ripley (buoyed by a superb Sigourney Weaver performance) are the main ingredients here. But there’s also a style and distinction to the film that lifts it considerably. As hard as it is to detach it from its two predecessors, Alien 3 has enough to it to work as an interesting, standalone sci-fi movie.